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To belong is a powerful thing. At Cascade Connections, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering people with disabilities to enhance their quality of life, belonging is just the beginning. Freedom and choice are also central to the agency’s value system and its Supported Living services, which offer personalized care that enables people to live in their own homes and communities rather than in isolating institutions. Cascade Connections believes that enhancing the lives of people with disabilities starts with understanding and applying the principle of self-direction. Residential Operations Manager Mary Nestle-Klyn and Supported Living Area Manager Nikki Harangozo recently sat down with WhatcomTalk to discuss the importance of this principle when providing Supported Living services.

There are many programs at Cascade Connections dedicated to enriching the lives of people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Cascade Connections

As Operations Manager for Cascade Connections’ residential programs, Mary oversees the Home Care, Group Training Home, Quality Assurance, and Supported Living departments. When describing the agency’s services as a whole, which also include a Vocational Services department and a Training Center, Mary explains: “At Cascade Connections, our focus and our mission are to serve and support adults with developmental disabilities. I think something that sets us apart from other organizations is our focus on ensuring that our clients are really living a self-directed life and that they are integrated in the community, doing all the things they want to do.”

Cascade Connections’ Supported Living, or CCSL, provides highly individualized support based on the personal preferences, goals, interests, and needs of those receiving services. “It’s about what you want to do with your life,” Mary says. “Do you want to work on getting a job? Do you want activities, do you want to participate in church? It’s about helping people to live happy and fulfilling lives. And we’ve found that when people have choice over the things they’re doing, the behaviors that were keeping them in an institution go down dramatically, just by moving them into the community and allowing them to have that freedom we all experience.”

Enjoying life and integrating successfully with the community is top priority for Cascade Connections clients. Photo courtesy Cascade Connections

Often more fiscally responsible than institutionalization, Supported Living programs offer a way for people to get individualized services while staying connected to the wider community. As CCSL Area Manager Nikki puts it, “There’s nothing more devastating than when families can no longer provide support, and people have to leave their community to get the support they need.”

Nikki specializes in recruitment and onboarding of new clients, CCSL curriculum development, and manager training. She explains how the process of person-centered planning helps to ensure that individuals receive support that is as self-directed and personalized as possible. Each client participates in initial and ongoing, annual assessments of their goals and support needs. These assessments include anyone that the person wishes to invite, such as friends, family members, case managers, job coaches, and primary staff. Together, the client and their community make plans that will empower the individual to enhance their lives. These plans get revised and updated as needed during monthly staff meetings and regular check-ins with clients and their families.

At Cascade Connections, it’s important to help incorporate individual needs and interests when assisting with Supported Living for people with disabilities. Photo courtesy Cascade Connections

A former director of the CCSL program, Nikki emphasizes its robustness in comparison to other residential programs in Whatcom County. CCSL’s Direct Support Professionals are trained to provide an extremely diverse array of services that respond to individuals’ specific medical, financial, social, and emotional needs. Staff may assist with eligibility paperwork, budgeting, medical appointments, meal preparation, eating, personal care, communication, positive behavior support, hobbies, community activities, school, employment, and much more. Nikki says, “I’ve been at Cascade Connections for over a decade, and I’ve never worked the same day twice. Each day looks different for each person we support, just like for you and me.” She concludes: “We also learn so much from those we support. This work continually makes us better people.”

To learn more about Supported Living and Cascade Connections’ other essential programs and how you can help support this incredible organization, check out the agency website: www.cascadeconnections.org.

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